Mold in schools: What lessons are being learned?

We believe it’s safe to say area public school districts are learning a lesson from the overly wet summer.

Schools all over Pennsylvania have delayed the start of school or suspended classes because of excess moisture causing mold.

The latest in our area is Keystone Central, where buildings are closed until further notice.

Did you know regular air testing in public schools is not mandatory in Pennsylvania?

Some districts in eastern and western Pennsylvania revealed black mold on ceiling tiles in their classrooms. Finding mold in one area of a building can generally mean there’s more elsewhere.

Williamsport. Jersey Shore. Keystone Central. State College. Selinsgrove. The list goes on of schools and districts impacted by mold.

So how wet has it been?

The National Weather Service has these 2018 statistics year-to-date:

5 Clinton County has received just shy of 39 inches of precipitation, or 10 inches above normal.

5 Centre County has received just under 41 inches of precipitation, or 12 inches above normal.

5 Lycoming County has received 40 inches of rain, or 11 inches above normal.

It’s much worse in some southeastern counties.

For example, Lebanon County has received 53 inches of rain, or 23 inches above normal. That county appears to be the worse hit. Berks County got 52 inches, or nearly 22 inches above normal.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has extensive guidelines — more like recommendations — on what schools should do to implement an IAQ (Indoor Air Quality Management Plan.) Those guidelines read, in part:

“School officials are encouraged to develop and implement their own IAQ Management Plan in order to address, prevent, and resolve IAQ problems in their specific schools. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s report, Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools, provides a set of flexible and specific activities which should be useful to school officials in developing such a plan. A key feature of the plan is the selection of an IAQ Coordinator.

“Other critical features of the plan include establishing necessary IAQ policies, assessing the status of indoor air quality in the school through periodic inspections and maintaining appropriate logs and checklists, performing repairs and upgrades and implementing final follow-up assessments and steps. Because of the complexities involved in setting priorities for repairs and upgrades, and for committing school resources, it is important to maintain good communication to build consensus involving school management and all appropriate committees and groups.”

Are schools running their air conditioning systems (if they have them) over the summer to reduce humidity?

What about dehumidifiers? Ventilation?

Are tight finances getting in the way of those measures?

How often do schools test indoor air quality?

Amid an overly wet summer, why did so many schools seemingly wait until the last minute to test the air and for mold?

The answers to these and other questions can provide valuable lessons to school officials so to prevent such drastic measures at a time when classes start in late summer.

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